It has been three years since last we posted a review (on October 9, 2004, to be exact) of the Queen Mary Terror Fest. During that time, Shipwreck Productions, the company that haunts the venerable ship during Halloween, tried moonlighting with Scareplex, a haunt located in the Pomona Fairgrounds. We never made it out to Scareplex, but the responses we heard from other Halloween enthusiasts were not encouraging. Even more alarming were hints that, with Shipwreck Productions stretched thin between the two haunts, the Queen Mary Terror Fest was suffering.
Well, Scareplex is no more (it has been replaced by Fearplex, by the people who do Spooky House), and the Shipwreck crew is back to concentrating their efforts on the Queen Mary during the month of October. Not having visited the last two years, we are not qualified to state whether 2007 represents a "comeback" for the Queen, but we can say we had a wonderful time. Even after trips to Knott's Scary Farm and Universal's Halloween Horror Nights, the Shipwreck still had us jumping out of our skins.
This year, we roped in a few extra people, to get an idea of how non-jaded visitors react to the haunt, and we got a big thumbs up from all concerned. However, things did get off to a bumpy start, when it came to cashing in on the Terror Fest's discount admission prices.
Per tradition, the Shipwreck's official website did not post any announcements on their Discounts page until literally the last minute. An e-mail to the haunt's Frightmaster elicited a response promising, "We have $5.00 discounts at participating Wienerschnitzels and on Pepsi cans throughout Southern California. We will also be offering a $10.00 website discount for the remaining two Sundays."
The website discount turned out to be not a coupon but an offer: bring a receipt for a $2-minimum donation to your favorite charity and you get $10 off admission price. (The offer is also good next Sunday.) This worked out fine for the Hollywood Gothique personnel; we managed to find some receipts for charitable donations with only minimal rummaging through our files.
Less fortunate were our guests, who opted for the $5 Pepsi discount. At the ticket booth, they were told that the discount applied only to regular admission for the Queen Mary, not for the Terror Fest, which is considered a "special event." (Even though neither this nor the Wienerschnitzel discount is mentioned on the Shipwreck website, we're pretty sure we have seen billboards around town highlighting the Pepsi offer and specifically mentioning the Terror Fest.) Sadly, they wound up having to pay full price, despite having been told beforehand that Sunday was discount day.
Fortunately, that was the last major disappointment of the evening, and things went well from there. Sunday night was sparsely attended (which may be why a discount is being offered). We found parking close to the entrance. There was virtually no waiting to purchase tickets. Only a small line had formed waiting for the gates to open at 7:00pm. Once inside, we had our choice of which maze to attend, and the lines were always short, often five or ten minutes - fifteen at the absolute maximum - and even these waits were only because the haunts insist on people going through in small groups at regular intervals, instead of herding them through like cattle.
Contrary to expectations, as the evening wore on, the lines grew even shorter, presumably because guests had already visited the mazes and moved on to the dance clubs for the rest of the evening. We took advantage and went on four of the seven mazes twice; we would have repeated all seven had not hunger and exhaustion intervened. We managed to do all this with over two hours to spare, making for a pretty intense haunt experience: one maze right after the other, with hardly any waiting in between.
We cannot promise that you will be this lucky on other evenings, but one of the features the Terror Fest is touting for 2007 is "Limited Occupancy," meaning that they sell fewer tickets to keep the crowds down.
In general, we were extremely impressed with the number and the enthusiasm of the ghouls working the haunt. There was never a time when the maze hallways seemed hollow rather than haunted. Not only was there a monster around every corner; more often than not, there were two: one who revealed himself directly in front of you, to distract your attention, while the second snuck up from behind to deliver the scare.
We also noted that the Terror Fest made excellent use of light and darkness in their mazes. There always seemed to be at least enough light to prevent us from stumbling around in the shadows, yet it was usually so dim that large sections of the rooms or corridors were completely invisible, allowing ghouls to hide in plain sight (so to speak) instead of around corners. The effect was frequently startling - finding yourself suddenly confronted by someone directly in front of you, when you thought you were approaching an empty corner.
VOYAGES INTO DARKNESS: MAZES ONE BY ONE
Revenge of the Reaper was our first maze of the evening. This is a new one roughly approximates the old Trail of Terror, which was also set in the marketplace area that you pass on your way to the ship. Revenge of the Reaper eschews the vampires and hearses seen on the old trail, but it takes advantage of the Marketplace, which resembles an old fishing village, and much of it is set outside, which lends a nice layer of atmosphere on a windy night, such as we had on Sunday, with oceans breezes blowing so hard that the dark curtains separating the rooms were fluttering like something out of one of Roger Corman's Poe movies. The realistic settings, which include a trip through a dingy kitchen, helped separate this from the standard maze experience. Overall, this was highly effective.
Blood of the Buccaneers - right next door to Revenge of the Reaper - features the obligatory spooky pirates. The decor consists almost entirely of painted flats, so it is no match for the far more elaborate Redbeard's Revenge at Knott's Scary Farm. That said, the walls are very nicely painted with pirate designs; there are a few props to enhance the nautical feel, and there is one point where you have the option of following one of two paths, possibly receiving an extra scare if you take the "long" route (which rejoins the main hallways after a few yards).
Manor of Mayhemis located in the dome that once housed the Spruce Goose (and previously hosted the Shipwreck's Creatures of the Cove 3D maze). This is a more conventional maze, meant to suggest a haunted mansion. Constructed of painted flats, it lacks the realism of Revenge of the Reaper, but it is very extensive, and there are a few rooms that contain some nice props, including a body in a bed that is mechanically leveraged to leap out at you. The maze also gets brownie points for the "slider" lurking the dark - after you've exited the maze but before you've exited the darkness of the doom.
House of Hallucinations is the obligatory 3D maze, including the obligatory Killer Klowns. Located in the Shipwreck Plaza, just before you reach the ship, this one has been around a few years, but it still works quite well. Unlike the Knott's Scary Farm 3D mazes (which opt for bright, garish day-glo colors), House of Hallucinations retains a spooky feel, using the 3D effect to make painted skulls and skeletons stand out from the dark backgrounds, until they almost seem to be floating. The painted decor seems so dimensional that the scare-actors are able to blend in, resembling painted figures until they leap out at you. There is also a very nice room with what look like painted vertical stripes on a black background - they are actually bars, with a monster lurking unseen behind them, until he strikes.
All of this - and we hadn't even reached the boat yet! Which meant the best is yet to come, because the highlight of the Terror Fest is the Queen Mary herself, with her long dark corridors where who knows what may be lurking?
Haunted Hull of Horrors is located toward the back of the ship; this old favorite takes you down a series of stairs into the depths of the engine room, which is haunted by all manner of ghosts. The claustrophobic feeling in these dank corridors is palpable, and the actors do a wonderful job of finding hiding places among the nooks and crannies. An extra added jarring quality is provided by their insistence on banging heavy iron fuel tanks against the wall; the loud, metallic clang is quite unnerving in the enclosed space. At one point, the scares were so effective that the party ahead of us was reluctant to advance, holding us up while they worked up the courage to pass the next fright.
Corridors of Carnage is another holdover from years past. You reach this one through the entrance to the Boiler Room dance party, near the middle of the ship. The party was completely dead when we passed through (unless there were some spirits invisible to us on the dance floor), and only a few people in line before us. This is another trip through the darkness of the bowels of the boat, including an alarming moment when you take a narrow walkway that elevated at a dizzying height above the main room below. We had been taking the lead through the previous mazes; for the first time that evening, our teenage guests Tyler and Andrew stepped bravely into the breach. From their shrill screams, you would have sworn a couple of little girls were leading our party.
Decks of the Doomedwas last on our list. Using the same path as the Ghosts and Legends tour (a regular feature of the Queen Mary, with tales of allegedly true hauntings), this made its debut in 2004, and we're glad it's still around. It really should be called "Lower Decks of the Doomed," because you will not find yourself in the open air at any point (years ago, there was a "maze" on the upper deck of the back of the ship, but that is long gone). Once again we found ourselves leading our less than courageous fellow travellers down the stairs into darkened corridors. Among other sights, you see the empty swimming pool, supposedly the repository of a real ghost (of a drowning victim, of course), but our favorite sight is the sick bay with corpses covered with bloody sheets and monsters banging on the windows as if trying to get out while you walk past.
Having completed all seven mazes, we took advantage of the light crowds to revisit several of them. In most cases, we were pleased to note details we had missed before. In the House of Hallucinations, a monster offered us a "short cut" through a tiny room that had been occupied by a ghoul on our first visit; this gave him an opportunity to sneak around for a surprise jump on Tyler and Andrew, who obliged his effort with appreciative yelp of horror. In the Buccaneers maze we used the second visit as an opportunity to take the alternate route when we came to the detour, and we were rewarded with an extra scare lurking around a corner. It was also interesting to note that the 3D glasses from House of Hallucinations can enhance some of the decor even for mazes not designed for 3D. The effect is not nearly as eye-catching, but the glasses did add an extra layer to our second trip through the Buccaneers attraction.
On the other hand, after the initial adrenalin rush of the opening hours was over, the enthusiasm level of the ghouls seemed to have faded slightly during our second walk through Revenge of the Reaper. Perhaps some of the ghouls had gone on coffee break, or maybe the low level of walk-through victims had dulled their passion for sending scares through the bloodstream. (As our nephew Tyler sagely observed, "I think the monsters are getting tired.") Whatever the reason, the second visit did not quite live up to the initial one.
Nevertheless, our impression of the 2007 Terror Fest was a wildly enthusiastic one. The Queen Mary Shipwreck probably ranks second among long-running Southern California Halloween attractions, behind Knott's Scary Farm and well ahead of the Six Flag's Magic Mountain Fright Fest. (Universal's Halloween Horror Nights is fast becoming a major contender, but they're still short on mazes.) The Queen Mary has half the mazes of Knott's, and no shows or rides, so there is not nearly as much to do; but on a crowded night you're lucky to get to half the stuff at Knott's anyway, so you're likely to get just as much entertainment value for your dollar aboard the Queen.
CAPTAIN'S LOG: CONCLUSION
Some haunt-goers deride the Terror Fest, and it is easy to understand why. The on-shore mazes are mostly constructed of painted flats, with results not that different from what you get in any temporary haunt set up in a parking lot at a mall. There are no scare zones, although there are some free-roaming ghouls lurking in the plaza area near the ship. After you've finished with the mazes, there is not much to do, unless you want to boogie to bad disco music all night long.
Sure, you can have your picture taken with the Fright Mistress for $10, but she was nowhere in sight last evening, and security rather rudely waved us away as we poked around her abode, looking for a "Back in 10 Minutes" sign or some other indication of her return.
On the plus side, there was a live concert in "Purgatory Park (which is within sight of House of Hallucinations, Revenge of the Reaper and Blood of the Buccaneers), so there is some ongoing effort to provide enough entertainment to last the entire evening. When some of our party were too tired for a second go-round in the mazes, at least they had something to listen to while the rest of us enjoyed a second dose of fright. (And we hear that these lazy bones received their own frights as well, having been targeted by the free-roaming ghouls in the park.)
After it all was over, we headed back onto the freeway and took the first exit into downtown Long Beach, looking for dinner. A right turn on Ocean Boulevard brought us to the Long Beach Cafe (after driving a few blocks and making a U-turn to get on the correct side of the street). This quaint and seemingly small diner (at least it looked small from outside) is actually quite spacious - and it has an impressively large menu, too. Obviously a local hangout, it served big helpings of great-tasting food at reasonable prices. If you're looking for some place to nosh and recharge your batteries after drowning in a sea of ghosts, we highly recommend it.